Friday, December 2, 2016

The Extraordinary: Genesis 1

The Extraordinary                                                             11/27/16

Genesis 1, Luke 1:1-25, Psalm 117

Last week, on Christ the King Sunday, we introduced our multi-year journey throughout the Bible entitled The Extraordinary.  We started at the end of Scripture, which shows a delightful picture of Jesus Christ ruling over the new heavens and new earth as King of kings.  This is the direction that history moves toward.

Today, on the 1st Sunday of Advent, November 27th 2016, we begin in Genesis.

The Extraordinary story of Scripture starts out with the Creation  narrative.  We all know this.   Unfortunately, many know this because people have brought our human dysfunction to this marvelous beginning story.  So as we set out, I want to identify three attitudes that we do not have to live.  If we find ourselves having one of these attitudes, we should discard it as quickly as possible, in order to encounter the Extraordinary God who predates the beginning of all we know.  We will then remind ourselves the best way to read this story.

The first dysfunction is every expression of attacking the Creation story.  This shows itself in a variety of ways:  the great lengths people go to try to disprove something, in uglier moments the mocking and name calling.  The opposite dysfunction is the need to defend the Creation story.  God doesn’t need defending.  He speaks the truth, and the truth stands on its own.  Third, and this is especially difficult in the internet age, the dysfunction of having to know it all right now, every last detail and possible meaning, immediately, so that we can decide if we believe.  God doesn’t work on those terms. Genesis 1 is about the claim that God is the Creator.  We do not have to perform an exhaustive search of humankind’s historical understanding of the created.  We don’t have enough time, nor the brain capacity to take it all in.  Genesis 1 isn’t a final exam, it is an extraordinary introduction.

The best way to approach the beginning of this extraordinary story is simple:  Listen and obey.  That really is our call as believers:  to listen to the Lord, and do his will.  If we do this, we don’t have to approach this text with embarrassment, or a sense of fixing someone who doesn’t believe, or attempting to understand everything before we believe.  We have to listen to what God says, and then obey him.

But since we’ve already read the text, and we probably felt an inner impulse to either attack it, defend it or master it, let’s use a historic and scientific tool that is helpful for finding out the truth.  Let’s call upon our friend, the Scientific Method.  This is a process used by learners in experiment to test observations and answer questions.

If you need a refresher, the basic scientific method is this:
Purpose     Why are you doing this?  What question do you have?

Hypothesis         What do you think will happen?

Materials             What did you use?

Procedure            What did you do?

Results                What did you see?

Conclusions        What did you learn?

What I am about to say, I say with great reverence and respect.  Let’s put what we know of the Lord in Genesis 1 through the Scientific method.  What will we find?

Purpose:  Why is God doing this creating work?

We aren’t given enough information in Genesis 1 to know why God created the heavens and the earth.  Yes, other places in Scripture tell us why, but not here, not yet.  We simply learn that at the beginning of all that we have come to sense, there God existed, and that he created.

Hypothesis:  What did God think would happen when he created?

Again, other Scriptures inform us more than our morning text.  But we could say that God’s intent was that creation would be good, and when he saw it, he declared it good.

Materials:   What did God use to make the creation?

Two things:  his power, and his word. 

One of my favorite theological sayings was written by a Pastor named G. Campbell Morgan, who, writing about Genesis 1:3 said:  “God spoke to nothing, and it listened”.  What a wonderful thought, that God is all powerful.  He could have spoken the cosmos into being in a nanosecond without any effort.  He might have taken 7 days, with 24 hour periods, to do such matters.  He might have taken 4 billion years, or 400 billion years, because God is timeless, and not threatened or bound by time (He is the only one for whom it literally is true:  He has all the time in the world).  The point is, God is powerful enough to do these things, his way. 

And to show that power, his wonderful majestic power on display, he spoke, “And God said”.  God’s word was, and is, powerful and sufficient.

Procedure           What did God do?

He provided a litany of magnificence!

On the first day, He created Light and Darkness.

On the second day, he created sky to separate waters.

On the third day, he created land, sea and vegetation.

On the fourth day, he created the sun and the moon and stars.

On the fifth day, he created creatures of the sea and the birds.  He blessed them and told them to multiply.

On the sixth day, he created living creatures according to their kind, and humans.  He gave humans, made in God’s image, their orders for successful life.

On the seventh day, God rested, and made the day of rest holy.

Results                 What did God see?

God saw what he created, “it was good”, until he looked at the 6th day of work, which was “very good”. 

I find this magnificent.  Of all the things we can learn about God, the start of this story emphasizes that his work is good, yes, very good.

Conclusions        What did God learn?

Now, the Presbyterian in me is a little nervous, for God in his timelessness isn’t described as learning new things as history unfolds, but, we could say,

That God’s intent is proven by his works.  And God reserves a day in the week to be holy, and to rest from work, however good that work may be.

We will be journeying through the Extraordinary through the different seasons of life, and different seasons of church calendar.  This Advent, the story of the angel visiting Zechariah and Elizabeth is telling.  It speaks to God’s intent and God’s good work.

John and Elizabeth had wanted a child.  And when the time is right, which by the way, was very different than the natural order of things, God sends the angel to tell this good news to John.  John doesn’t believe, and therefore, he loses his voice.  The easiest path would have been for Zechariah to listen, and obey.

My prayer for the church is to believe in the God who creates, the one we meet in Genesis 1, right at the beginning.  In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. May we not lose our voice because we don’t believe.  For the creation story reveals the Creator.  I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and earth.

One more time, let’s review the three dysfunctions identified earlier:  If the primary way you read Scripture is as a skeptic, you are invited into a new and better way:  the life of faith.  Faith and truth are friends, not enemies.  As someone with a question, or something that you want to find out, your job is to use the right materials to observe the experiment occur as it was intended. 

If the primary way you read Scripture is to prove it to someone else, you can be at rest, and live a life of faith.  Jesus Christ is the Savior.   Our life is about celebrating Advent, both past and future.

If you have to know, here is something to know:  Only God knows it all. 

Finally, to all of us:  may we keep it simple:  When it comes to God, listen and obey.  For here is a wonderful thought for us.

If we are to be godly (that is, like God), then what is the first thing that we read of in this extraordinary story to be like God?  The answer is to Create.  We are not called to be God (impossible), but to be godly, and if we listen to God, and obey God, we will be creative forces in his world on behalf of all the creation.  We will be ambassadors of peace and goodness, righteousness and mercy, grace and truth.  Even our rest becomes a witness that God alone is able to save by his power and his word.

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